"Why So Many Famous Comedians Grew Up In Religious Jewish Homes"
by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
The Jewish High Holy Days begin this Friday evening with two days of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year and end 10 days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that what God thinks of us is far more important than what we think of God. Thus it follows that Rosh HaShana, literally the head of the year, is the time when God judges all humans. Rosh HaShana's solemn role of affirming that God indeed does judge us, makes one of its central themes, laughter, difficult to understand.
Is laughter indeed the motif of this most solemn day? Traditionally, we Jews search for the meaning of the day within the Torah portion designated for public reading on that day. On Rosh HaShana, Chapters 21 and 22 of Genesis are read; they chronicle the birth and early life of Abraham and Sarah's son, Isaac, history's first born Jew. Even from conception, laughter surrounds his life. In fact, out of the 13 Scriptural references to "laughter," nine occur in the context of Isaac's life. His name means "he shall laugh" and it is the name that God instructed Abraham and Sarah to give him after they had laughed about his birth. It must have seemed a comic thought to a 90-year-old woman that she and her 100-year-old husband would become first-time parents.
Ancient Jewish wisdom requires us to blow the shofar (ram's horn) 100 times on Rosh HaShana in a complex sequence of notes composed to sound just the way crying or laughing sounds. (From another room, deprived of visual clues, even mothers often fail to distinguish whether a child is crying or laughing.) With the laughter meaning of Isaac's name as well as the laughing sounds of the shofar all integrated by the day's reading of the Torah portion, Rosh HaShana is not only the day of judgment, it is clearly also the day of laughter. There must be some way of integrating our understanding of both the joy of laughter and the solemnity of judgment.
Laughter is one of the distinctions that humans enjoy over animals. What makes us laugh? People laugh at things that violate a sense of how things ought to be. A pompous mayor who slips on a banana peel is funny. A vagrant who falters and sprawls on the sidewalk just seems sad.
Likewise, a sexual innuendo that provokes howls of laughter among school boys and titters among stockbrokers, elicits yawns of indifference from hardened prison inmates. The dirty joke assaults notions of human refinement, thereby causing laughter. To the depraved, however, it is not a dirty joke, it is reality.
The only reason that we laugh at cartoons of talking animals is because of our underlying conviction that only humans were given the gift of speech. A joke can only be funny in the context of a fixed framework which it contradicts.
The paramount project of secular liberalism is to utterly obliterate most rules and fixed frameworks. In the absence of any system of inviolable, religiously based absolutes, there are no unthinkable acts to perform; there are few rules to violate. In a world in which everything floats, humor has nothing solid to thrust against.
To the dismay of secular parents raising Godless children, their offspring will probably find humor one day only in the absurdity of their parents' Godless lives.
The laughter and joyfulness that permeate the family life of religious Americans springs from the presence of Biblically inspired discipline and structure. Conversely, the grim seriousness with which the secular liberal seems to go about the business of life springs from the absence of absolute values. (One cannot help but recall the famous joke that reflected feminism's humorlessness: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: That's not funny).
Since jokes are only funny if they contradict a preconception, and all preconceptions are becoming banned, many genres of jokes are vanishing from our national repertoire. The political correctness doctrine banishes humor and laughter entirely because humor presupposes an existing standard. If nothing is absolutely good and nothing is unthinkably bad, nothing can be funny. Clearly one of the goals of secular liberalism is to eliminate most existing standards. The unintended consequence will be the dreary and somber atmosphere that was characteristic of life behind the old Iron Curtain. Secularism, and its sequel, socialism, work together to banish laughter from the world.
Jewish tradition has it that Abraham, through his renowned kindness, attracted thousands of devotees to Judaism. Yet, a full three generations later, by which time the world's Jewish population ought to have reached large numbers, the Bible (Genesis 46) indicates a total Jewish population of merely 70 souls.
The great transmitters of the Oral Torah explain that Abraham had focused on the Almighty's capacity for unrestrained love and compassion. Isaac, the icon of Rosh HaShana, introduced an awareness of God's firm hand into Jewish culture. Many of the disciples drawn by Abraham's gentle nature were later repelled by Isaac's unpopular emphasis on law, leaving a core following of only 70.
Yet it is precisely the structure of law that defines boundaries and allows humans to live among one another. Ancient Jewish wisdom in chapter three of Ethics of the Fathers, exhorts "Pray for the welfare of legal authority--without it, men would destroy each other." The origin of legal authority and its best validation is the model of Divine authority. For this reason, civil authorities like kings would often head the Church too. They were aware that their acceptance of God's authority made it more logical for citizens to accept their's.
In other words, my children are more likely to obey my rules and later, society's too, if they grow up watching me accept God's rules. Children of parents whose vehicles sport bumper stickers that read "Question Authority" will grow up doing just that. They will also become rather hard to live with.
We humans are by nature reluctant to submit ourselves to a higher authority. Showing how treasured human moments like laughter depend on that submission, helps persuade us that civilization depends upon allowing God to judge us. That is the paramount message of the High Holy Days and accounts for its laughter motif.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Sunday, October 01, 2006
When I was Teaching high school English, I used to assign my students a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne to read and discuss which was titled “Ethan Brand”. The story is about a young man, the title character, who deliberately embarks upon a search for what he called the “Unpardonable Sin”. His journey involves, not a descent into unbridled pleasure or overt selfishness, but rather in desiring to know everything there is to know. Hawthorne skillfully describes how this young man gradually evolves from a sensitive and caring person into what Hawthorne describes as a fiend. He writes that Ethan Brand became a fiend “the moment his moral nature had ceased to keep the pace of improvement with his intellect.” His education, because it neglected his spiritual nature, had as its greatest fruit - the Unpardonable Sin.“Ethan Brand” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Let me quote from the story: “so much for the intellect! It had ceased to partake of the universal throb. He had lost hold of the magnetic chain of humanity. He was no longer a brother, he was now a cold observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his experiment and, at length, converting men and women to his puppets, and pulling the wires that moved them to such degrees of crime as were demanded for his study.”
I used to teach this story as a kind of warning to my students of how important it was for the head and the heart to grow together, and this was a warning that students who were as privilege and gifted as my students were needed to hear. I was trying to help at the expense of disowning their own hearts. It was a way of asking them the question Jesus posed to the rich young man in the gospel: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” I loved giving that lecture and facilitating that discussion! It was a last chance to harangue my students about the importance of claiming their hearts, of paying attention to their inner longing, which are the prelude to discovering the presence of God. It was really trying to tell them that, in life, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
I had, of course, hoped that Ethan Brand would never have been on the list of those persons my students would choose to emulate.
But then, a few years later, when I was principal, I actually met Ethan Brand.
His real name (not really!) Was Kevin, 16 years old, bright, talented, handsome, athletic, a student body officer - and, apparently, a drug dealer. This last activity came to my attention through parents in his neighborhood who told me that, although Kevin never sold drugs at school (which would have been cause for expulsion), he was selling them to the kids in his neighborhood. The parents said they hd talked to Kevin’s parents but had been unsuccessful in convincing them that their son was really doing this.
I called Kevin into my office, partly because I thought he should know what was being said about him, and partly because I wanted to put him on notice that, if anything like that happened at school, he would be dismissed. To my surprise, he admitted that he was, in fact, selling drugs to his peers, that he was keenly aware of the repercussions which would attach if he was to do so at school, and that he had not qualms whatsoever about continuing. When I expressed some curiosity about why he would do this since he was obviously wealthy and did not use drugs himself, he gave and answer, which reminded me of Ethan Brand. Kevin told me he sold drugs because he was fascinated by the effects they had on other people and that he enjoyed the power he had gained over them.
Try to keep myself from doing something irrational, I began informing him, with as much genuine passion as I could muster, how his insensitivity to others had already ruined lives and could possibly even cause death. I tried to explain to him how what he was doing was beyond the pale of acceptable behavior toward friends or even enemies.
As I was talking, I saw something happening to him. He eyes locked into mine. His face reddened, his jaws shut tight, his eyes filled with tears. But I made the mistake of reading remorse when what he spat out at me was pure rage. He said: “I’m sorry I ever came to this damned school.” Being totally confused, I asked him to repeat what he had said, and he did, with even more energy than before: “I’m sorry I even came to this damned school.” When I asked why, he stunned me with his answer: “Because,” he said, “if I had gone to a public school, like I wanted to, I wouldn’t have had to worry about saving my soul.”
If I had gone to just a public school, I wouldn’t have to worry about saving my soul. ~Bishop Gordon Bennett, "Being Catholic: From the Heart"
I got this from William Trentman from Utah's 44th Annual Pastoral Congress
Sunday, September 17, 2006
“But values are in the subjective realm. Any specific human brain is in only one person, therefore values are in only one person. Many are the philosophers and religious devotees who would have their own values mandated as objective. Personally, I think the attempt to do so is immoral.”Am I being objectively immoral or only immoral in the sense of your own subjective value standards? If subjective, I hope you are not trying to "mandate" your subjective values onto me.
I agree that values have a subjective element but some values are also based in natural law which is written into us as humans. Your argument has as it’s premise that humans are so different that there is no commonality to base any objective value standards. If you are right then on what basis can you tell anyone that they are wrong? On what grounds would you tell the early American slave owners that they were wrong for not valuing African American’s as equals. Most you could really say was that subjectively you value Africans American’s as equal but the slave owners would not be objectively wrong for valuing them less. They would be right based on their own subjective values.
You also have the problem that in a society that only has subjective values to base standards on, the only thing that makes something socially right or wrong is power. Might makes right which is scary.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
“Value judgements are hard to argue with--is green a better colour than blue? Should we have justice or peace? Thus, we all seek to make our value preferences into facts, rather than opinions.” Link
What your are doing here is exactly was Pope Benedict was addressing in his controversial Address at the University of Regensburg. He said,
The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.Not all values are subjective preferences. Some values are universally held and to deny them is to deny the best of what it is to be human. Take the value of courage, can you imagine a society were cowardice was held with more value than courage? The answer is not to try less, but like pope Benedict explained we need to broaden the use of reason to bring the important questions that religion and ethics ask out of the subjective realm.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Innocence seems to be a potentially attractive kind of ignorance. Apparently, in many social contexts ignorance can be a good thing, in part because helps to preserve idealism. Idealism is a simplified view of the world that supports optimism about the abilities or motives of oneself, one's associates, one's groups, and of related social processes.
It is interesting because it gives respect to innocence. Something teenagers and Hollywood usually don’t do. I don’t really like the examples used because they seem to be controversial and not altogether convincing. I think I could give better examples. For example, hearing gossip about someone you like. “So and so cheated with so and so” is not something that I really want to know when one of both or the so and so’s is someone I love.
Here’s another example, How The Lord Of The Rings should have ended:
Warning if you are a lord of the rings fan you probably want to pass on this one. I know I wish I never saw it.
My final example would be drugs. Having the insight of how meth feels could be a curse.
I have a feeling that innocence versus insight can be a false dichotomy. I think there is a third higher position where you can keep ones innocence and at the same time have insight when the insight conforms to God’s will. I can view the Church as the holy Kingdom of God but also understand that it has members that do evil things. People can have shortcoming but I can also see them with tremendous grace. I guess its seeing with the eyes of faith. Things that are complex and dispiriting become clear and consoling when viewed with the grace of God. This innocence is an essential Christian trait.
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
The eagle-eyed worker was using a backhoe to dig up potting soil in central Ireland last week when he spotted the leather-bound book.I wounder how it got there?
Experts called to the site were amazed to find an ancient Psalter Book of Psalms lying in the mud. The archaeologists won't say exactly where the book was found until they are finished investigating the site.
About 20 pages long and written in Latin, the book has been dated to between A.D. 800 and 1000.~NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Cognitive science has long recognized the power of emotion over reason, and now political science is documenting it in the electoral sphere. In a study presented this year, scientists scanned the brains of staunch Democrats and Republicans. The volunteers first read a statement from George W. Bush or John Kerry, then a news account showing their candidate's deeds didn't live up to his words -- for example, cutting funding for children's hospitals after extolling their importance -- suggesting pandering or lying. The volunteers then considered the contradictions.I think the above study sheds light on a significant problem in apologetics. A solution to this problem is the indirect approach. The aim of indirect apologetics is to avoid the emotional response that comes with a direct attack. It does this by rationally addressing a fallacy by a rout that is not at first obvious. I use this blog to try to come up with different ways to do this.
You'd think this would tap reasoning ability. But no. According to the brain scans, the reasoning regions of the brain stayed quiet; emotion circuits lit up like Vegas. The volunteers denied obvious contradictions from their candidate, but detected them easily in the other guy. Partisan beliefs are so hardened and so tied to emotion, they're extremely hard to change, concluded Drew Westen of Emory University who led the study. ~The Wall Street Journal
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Whatever the new chic scientific model is, there is a tendency to try to force theology through that model. That is not what I am doing here. I just want to make the point that there is a good chance that there is more that we don’t know about the physical universe than what we do know. If this is true for the physical universe, how ignorant we must be of supernatural reality? This shows how essential Divine revelation is for us to grasp the transcendent. There is no way for science or philosophy to get us there. God has to come to use because we can’t get to him.
Here is an interesting site; Imagining the 10th Dimension Its a cool flash animation that gives some possible explanations for the different dimensions that string theory theorizes about.
String theory it is at this point philosophy since there is no sure experiment, to date, to test the theory. The explanations given in the animation for the different dimensions are probably false. The concept given in Imagining the 10th Dimension is not the mainstream understanding of string theory but it is still fun to think about. In many ways it reminds me of Star Trek with it’s alternative realities.
131 To give way in matters of faith would be a false charity. It would be a diabolical, deceitful charity. We must be fortes in fide — strong, firm in faith, as Saint Peter demands.This is not fanaticism, but quite simply the practice of our faith. It does not entail disliking anyone. We can give way in all accidental matters, but in matters of faith we cannot give way. We cannot spare the oil from our lamps, otherwise when the Bridegroom comes he will find they have burned out. ~St Josemaria Escriva
Monday, September 11, 2006
“’I want to fight for Jesus…/To win for him souls without number/ I want to love Him more and more! (The words of St. Joan of Arc in one of Terese’s plays)
Lord God of armies, you said in your Gospel, ‘I came to bring not peace but a sword’. Arm me for the struggle. I yearn to fight for your glory, but I beg you, strengthen my courage… (A prayer by St. Therese of Lisieux inspired by a picture of Joan of Arc)
Soldier of Christ, lend me your weapons
On behalf of sinners, here below I want
To struggle, to suffer in the shadow of your palms
Protect me, come to support my arm.
For them, by unceasing warfare,
I want to take by violence the Kingdom of God
For the Lord brought on earth
Not peace, but the Sword and Fire!
(The Poems of St. Therese of Lisieux, TO THE VENERABLE THEOPHANE VENARD, MARTYRED)
St. Therese of Lisieux is an indirect warrior saint. She spent most of her adult life in a convent. But through here little way she battled the devil and has brought people to Christ. She continues to fight for love of Christ. St. Therese of Lisieux please pray for us.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
This was my first Catholic Rap CD and I still listen to it. The Apologist’s conversion story is very interesting. His father was Muslim and his mother was Baptist and he found his way into the Catholic Church. He is currently in Mexico bringing people to Christ and his Church. If you do nothing else you need to listen to this the song...53 beads on a string. Simply Awesome.
The apologist is a lay member of Miles Jesu . Here is a little bit about Miles Jesu.
Miles Jesu (Latin for "Soldier of Jesus") is a form of consecrated life in the Church for the laity, known as an Ecclesial Family of Consecrated Life, whose purpose is "to instill Catholic ideals and goals in the world to further the Kingdom of Christ, making Him the Center of all human life". The Holy Father himself is consistently promoting such forms of consecrated life as something especially inspired by the Holy Spirit for the needs of our times."
Apologist home page
Saturday, September 09, 2006
This is an interesting map that can have some apologetic applications. I disagree with the map it's use of the category of Christian. This should be non-denominational not Christian. If it was Christian then the majority of the map would be one color because Catholic, Baptists and many of the others are Christian. Click here for a closer view of the map.
Touching off a new wave of abortion in the United States Food and Drug Administration said Aug. 24 that people 18 and older may buy Plan B (the morning after) pills without a prescription from pharmacies.
Since the primary purposes of this pill is to cause an abortion shortly after conception has taken place, Catholic Bishops immediately responded saying, “We need to call it exactly what it is - it is truly a culture of death.”
Also, because the pills are a concentrated dose of the same drug found in many regular birth-control pills which have serious side affects, the Bishop declared that these pills will “endanger women’s health” and “pray for our nations today and especially for women who are once again being told in this subtle yet drastic way that their values is based upon their willingness to be objects of sexual pleasure despite the cost”.
However, here in Utah the reaction from religious leaders was much different. Because our email to Dale Bills (LDS Church spokeman) went unanswered, as we have often done we called the office of the LDS First Presidency directly and asked for the LDS official position on the Plan B pill.
Their secretary Brother Klofler told us that the LDS official position was “not against or for” the Plan B pill. This statement is consistent with the LDS position in The First Presidencies General Handbook of Instructions which says: “The church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion,” (Pg. 156).
We found this statement ironic because a woman we know recently had her temple recommend removed after confessing she had drank a single cup of coffee to stay awake while driving. Yet if this same woman had a by-the-book legal abortion no action would be taken. Or if she had used the Plan B pill which is also possibly harmful to her and deadly to her child the LDS church would tell her we’re not against or for it.
Did someone say something about swatting at gnats and swallowing camels?
William and Charmaine Sharp, Castle Dale Ut
This was in my local paper and I thought that it was well said. My dad tells me that William and Charmaine where Mormon and converted to the Catholic Chuch. They have ten children and they have brought them all into the Catholic Church. They are strong supporters of the pro-life movement and I have a lot of respect for them.
Blakemore found that teenagers rely on the rear part of the mentalising network to make their decisions, an area of the brain called the superior temporal sulcus. In contrast, adults use the front part, called the prefrontal cortex.
The superior temporal sulcus is involved in processing very basic behavioural actions, whereas the prefrontal cortex is involved in more complex functions such as processing how decisions affect others. So the research implies that "teenagers are less able to understand the consequences of their actions", says Blakemore. ~Helen Thomson, Norwich, Why Adolescents put themselves first
The article interprets the implication of the finding as authorities should be more lenient on teenagers. My take is that we need to be more protective of teenagers until their brains are fully developed. What does this have to do with Apologetics? Well I guess it helps us better understand a group of people that we minister to.
Freud says that spiritual joy is a substitute for physical pleasure. People become saints out of sexual frustrations.
This is exactly the opposite of the truth. St. Thomas Aquinas says, "No man can live without joy. That is why one deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures." Sanctity is never a substitute for sex, but sex is often a substitute for sanctity.
The simplest, most unanswerable proof that Aquinas is right and Freud is wrong, is experience. It is not a matter of faith alone. It has been proved by experience by many, many people, many, many times. You can repeat the experiment and prove it to yourself. You can be absolutely certain that it is true, just as you can be certain that fire is hot and ice is cold.
Millions of people for thousands of years have tried the experiment, and not one of them has ever been cheated. All who seek, find—this is not just a promise about the next life, to be believed by faith, but a promise about this life, to be proved by experience, to be tested by experiment.
No one who ever said to God, "Thy will be done" and meant it with his heart, ever failed to find joy—not just in heaven, or even down the road in the future in this world, but in this world at that very moment, here and now. ~Peter Kreeft, Joy
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
As followers of Christ, Catholic are called to work towards justice in all areas of life. This applies even to God’s creation. We are called to be just stewards of Gods gifts and this entails fighting against the exploiting of God’s creation. Admittedly there are greater injustices in the world, (i.e. abortion, genocide, and poverty) but we should be willing to fight wherever injustice is present.
Indirect Apologetic Application
Environmentalism can be common ground for Catholics and other groups in secular society. It can be a foundation where sin can be recognized as the cause of injustice. It is a situation where we must repent. It points to the propensity of modern man not to submit to reality but to try to exploit nature to fulfill narcissistic desires. C.S. Lewis said the following in regarding to modern culture;
There is something which unites magic and applied science [technology] while separating both from the `wisdom' of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men, and the solution is a technique. ~C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of ManSecular Environmentalists and Catholics need to come together to seek the wisdom of how each individual can conform and submit to objective truth. Not through a techological quick fix through domination, but by the road of knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue which is just stewardship.
Some links of interest:
Catholic Conservation Center
Sunday, September 03, 2006
I got Akalyte's (a.k.a Mc Just) CD Ultramontane a couple of months ago and I love it. It is true that, "not a single heretic can step to it!" hehehe Its not for those who don't like base heavy rap but its 100% Catholic. It's perfect for workouts.
If you want to hear some of the music go here....Akalyte
It is my contention that the underlying epistemological presuppositions (i.e. how one habitually evaluates ideas, events and things) inherent in Protestantism have permeated our cultural milieu -- albeit in secularized form. This has happened so profoundly that when one starts exploring Christianity, bringing one's mental faculties to bear on arguments and beliefs, the underlying intellectual premises one is working from are already concordant with Protestantism.With one example...
What am I getting at? I am saying that every person intellectually approaches truth claims and ideas with his own habitual presuppositions. These assumptions form a kind of cognitive filter through which claims and ideas must initially pass. They help determine one's understanding and response to them. Many of these intellectual presuppositions come from one's cultural milieu. Constant exposure and habitual use of them makes their influence nearly imperceptible. Yet they have a profound influence on our judgments and understanding. Link
3. Radical IndividualismProtestantism: Each individual is guided by the Holy Spirit in interpreting the (literal) meaning of the Bible. [semi-Subjectivism]
Secularism: Each individual is guided by his own values in interpreting what things --- like family, sex, religion, career --- (presently) mean to him. [Subjectivism] Link
Once the Paradigm is challenged, the next step is to see if the assumption is Biblical [if your talking with a Christian]. A radical individualistic world vew is very unbiblical. The Biblical analogy of Christians being sheep that follow would be one case in point. Instant Conversion of whole households when the one in charge was converted would be another.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Traditional Latin Mass filmed on Easter Sunday in 1941 at Our Lady of Sorrows church in Chicago. The film presents the ceremonies of the Missa Solemnis or Solemn High Mass in full detail with narration by then-Mgr. Fulton J. Sheen. Celebrated by Rev. J. R. Keane of the Order of Servites (hence the white habits and cowls), the ceremonies are accompanied by a full polyphonic choir, orchestra, and fifty Gregorian Chanters.... (more)
The attention to detail in the ceremonies is impressive. Notice, for example, how the servers and ministers always take great care to move in order. Notice too that the servers are all almost identical in height. The Ordinary of the Mass, composed by Rev. Edwin V. Hoover, while pleasant in places, is very much a reflection of its time. The Proper on the other hand is timeless and sung admirably by a healthy throng of Seminarians from Mundelein, Illinois.
Unfortunately due to size restrictions at Youtube around 20 mins have been cut from the original. However, I hope to upload a full version at Google soon or perhaps here when Youtube improves its director accounts. In addition to the cuts I have added new captions and edited the opening credits. The credits had deteriorated quite badly in the original. I retyped what I could see of them and faded them in at the beginning and at the end. Other than this the film remains largely unchanged.
On Jimmy Akin’s site it mentions “memento mori genre”which I found interesting. Memento mori means "Remember your death" in Latin. I think it’s something that can be good. It puts our lives in perspective and puts some urgency and weight into what we do with our time. With that thought I will send you off to 20 Things You Didn't Know About... Death. The thing that was disturbing to me was number 19, “More people commit suicide in New York City than are murdered.” There's something wrong with that.
The Mocking of Christ, Fra Angelico, 1440-41
We would however be missing the main point were we not to discern that the genius of Fra Angelico is deployed here in the service of on precise goal: what the artist seeks to show is not primarily the brutality of the tormentors, nor the disfigurement of the body of Christ at the time of his passion, but rather a vision of faith.
That was a quote from this month's Illustration in the Magnificat. It was written by Eliane Gondinet-Wallstein. The Magnificat is a monthly prayer book that follows the liturgy of the Catholic Church which my wife and I use.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
...In one study, mother rats were given the opportunity to press a bar and get a squirt of cocaine or press a bar and get a rat pup to suck their nipples...Those oxytocin squirts in the brain outscored a snort of cocaine every time.
The quote is from the book The Female Brain by Louann Brizedine and I found it on this blog. The bond between a mother and her infant is very stong, stronger than cocaine even. This points to the speical bond between Mary and Jesus.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
A few posts ago I commented on Steve Levitt’s book Freakconomics. Levitt gave evidence that abortion lowered the crime rate but in reality only a portion of the data supports his theory. The other portion refutes it. I am not going to go into the facts but I will give some links.
Here is a article that gives the fact of where Levitt went wrong:
Here is a debate between Steve Levitt and Steve Sailer on the subject:
Does Abortion Prevent Crime?
Here are two books that refute Levitt's claim:
Econospinning: How to Read Between the Lines When the Media Manipulate the Numbers
by Gene Epstein
Party of Death by Ramesh Ponnuru
Thursday, August 03, 2006
1. One book that changed your life.
The Art of Natural Family Planning by Kippley it has helped in my relationship with my wife and God. It has also helped me to understand woman better...but I still haven’t figured them out..
2. One book that you have read more than once.
Search and Rescue by Patrick Madrid
3. One book you'd want on a desert island.
Desert Island SURVIVAL for Dummies There is really no such book but there should be.
4. One book that made you laugh.
Don Quixote de la Mancha
5. One book that made you cry.
A Cry of Stone by Michael O’Brien
6. One book you wish had been written.
I would have liked to of read a sequel to Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain but instead of Merton succumbing to the spirit of his age, he instead becomes a saint. Better yet, how about a book 40 years from now about me being a saint. That would be cool.
7. One book you wish had never been written.
I would but I don't want to give it any attention.
8. One book you are currently reading.
Introducing Keynes, by Peter Pugh and Chris Garratt. It’s a book dumbed down into a comic book format but it gives good information. I have been interested in economic theory recently for some reason. I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone.
9. One book I have been meaning to read.
Anything written by Peter Kreeft that I have not read.
10. Tag some others.
Anyone that has a blog who happens to read this.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Sunday, July 30, 2006
But I also have a theory. The pill was introduced in around 1960 in New York. The pill affected the New York population in that “responsible” families, those who could comply with the “wisdom” of fertility reduction, had fewer children. People who were not intelligent, inept, or responsible were not as successful with the cultural value of fertility reduction and had more children. This increase the ratio of children in the population who came from “dysfunctional”parents and this led to a higher crime rate, twenty years later, in the 1980's in New York.
This all reeks of eugenics but I would guess that the culture of contraception has had a more detrimental effect on society than the crime reduction ability of abortion can counterbalance. To bad that many Catholics in America have sold out to the wisdom of fertility reduction [i.e. culture of death] but that is a topic for another post.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
When people ask me about my conversion today, I often tell them I was converted by Mozart. That is an exaggeration, but not far from the truth. It was through music and art that I encountered a positive, inspiring vision of Catholicism. To be young is to be a sensualist, and it was through my ears and eyes that I first became attracted to the faith. Link
Our Pope before he became Pope said the following in regards to Mozart;
You might say that there Mozart thoroughly penetrated our souls, and his music still touches me very deeply, because it is so luminous and yet at the same time so deep. His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence. LinkListen to one of B16's favorite songs writen by Mozart; Quintet for Clarinet
Friday, July 28, 2006
All religions rely upon one thing. FAITH. And faith is the belief in something without evidence, proof, or logical rationale. That is the source of all problems. Irrational thought. Faith is the absence and defiance of reason. And that is the bane of our current existence.And my response;
All religions rely upon one thing...transcendence. Reality is something more than what can fit into the human box of evidence, proof, or logical rationale. This is the source of all human hope, that there is something beyond us. Setting faith against reason is irrational. It denies the possibility of the fulfilment of the greatest desire of the human heart.In my argument I tried to use the same structure but with a larger perspective. I think by doing this it makes it easier for the other side see the point. I hope it does not come off like I am mocking the other person. I also tried to use the most general religions position as possible because it makes it harder to go off on tangents. The less bait for tangents the more likely the person will face the core of an argument. But anyway it felt good do some apologetics.
Monday, July 17, 2006
I have not seen the movie Superman Returns but I have heard very different opinions on the movie. One side says that Superman is portrayed as a dead beat dad not willing to take responsibility for his son and Lois is a single parent shacking up with her boyfriend and the movie sets up a sequel for “Super Bastard”. Some on the other side like the movie because it shows Superman as a type of Christ in that Superman is portrayed as a Christ like savior. Here is a quote...
He [Superman] undergoes something of a via dolorosa in the film, complete with a Kryptonite lance in the side. And his final, heroic act to save the world is one which — apparently — costs him his life. He falls from space to earth in a cruciform shape; the man of the Cross for the salvation of the world.The other view says this...
Some things point us to God in rather direct ways, others more indirectly, and still others show us divine truths by opposition and contrast rather than by similarity. Superman is a figure who is striking not so much for his similarity to Christ, but rather for his dissimilarity.
So is the movie pro-Christ or anti-Christ? I don’t know, I haven’t seen the movie but here are two different opinions...
Hollywood's Caped Messiah
Anti-Christ Superman: The Superhero and the Suffering Servant
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Values do have an element that is subjective but values are also objective in that some values are written into us as humans. We cannot be happy without being connected to something beyond ourselves, something transcendent. It is in our nature to hunger for something beyond us. Our modern society has a metaphysics of materialism which tends to undervalue the intangible. This causes problems because people aim for things that are less than transcendent.
The major faith traditions throughout history testify to needing something transcendent. The Greeks i.e. Aristotle (and latter Christian’s) recognized four levels of happiness. I am quoting the following;
1. laetus: Happiness in a thing. Thus, “I see the linguini, I eat the linguini, it makes me feel good, I am happy.” This kind of happiness is based on something external to the self, is short-lived and, on reflection, we do not consider that it is all there is to human happiness.
2. felix: The happiness of comparative advantage. “I have more of this than X.” “I am better at this than X.” This kind of happiness results from competition with another person. The self is seen in terms of how we measure up to others. It has been called “the comparison game.” Such happiness is rather unstable and, if one fails, can lead to unhappiness and sense of worthlessness. Exclusive pursuit tends to oppress others. Most people would not imagine a world as satisfactory if it was composed of only happiness #2 type people.
3. Beatitudo: (Beatitudo = happiness or blessedness). The happiness that comes from seeing the good in others and doing the good for others. It is, in essence, other-regarding action. Happiness #3 is, in some sense, at war with happiness #2. One cannot be at the same time in competition with someone else and doing the good for and seeing the good in them. Most people would prefer a world (community, family, relationships) structured around the pursuit of happiness #3 than entirely based in happiness #2. Happiness #3 is higher than happiness #2. The problem with #3 is that it is necessarily limited. We cannot be someone else's everything. For example, we or they, will die and if our happiness is contingent upon them, it dies with them. “There must be more than this.”
4. Sublime Beatitudo: (sublime = “to lift up or elevate”). This category, the most difficult to describe, encompasses a reach for fullness and perfection of happiness. The fullness, therefore, of goodness, beauty, truth and love. So we recognize in this category, those things that are, in a sense, beyond what we are capable of doing purely on our own. LINK
Our materialistic consumer culture tends to overvalue level one and two at the expense of level three and four which puts the hierarchy of values on it's head.
I have used this argument in the most hostile anti-Catholic environment there is, a pro-abortion website, and no one really addressed it head on. Here is the link of this post LINK
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis / That's the way y'all need Jesus
No truer words have been said in a rap song. lol
Here is a video of the song. Warning: the N-word is used a couple of times. The song has a church militant feel to it which I like.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Part of what fed (and feeds) the interest in apologetics is simply the thrill of learning and articulating the faith. That's certainly what motivates me. People call me an apologist. I generally don't call myself one, because I primarily think of myself as an amateur teacher. I think the Faith is fascinating and just like telling other people about it, because I love to watch the lights come on and I love to watch the Faith liberate other people as it's liberated me. Sometimes that involves "defending the Faith". A lot of times it simply involves proclaiming the Faith.
The two, by the way, are different and those who love apologetics would do well to remember it. The first and primary task of the believer is *not* to defend the Faith, but to proclaim it. In other words, evangelization comes first, and apologetics is, at best, its handmaid. You don't *need* to "defend the Faith* unless the Faith is being attacked. And if you enter into a conversation with a defensive mentality, don't be surprised if you ignite a hostile mentality in the person you are talking to. Not a few times have I seen hot-headed, testosterone-driven young single guys (in short, the sort of person who is typically drawn to apologetics) forget this and come on strong with a pugilistic attitude that radiates "You probably think there's something wrong with my Faith, don't you? Don't you? Come on, try me buddy. Just try me!" Such folk mean well usually. They are young bucks full of piss and vinegar. A thousand years ago, all that masculine energy would have been spent on something like a healthy crusade. But today, there are very few channels through which the Valiant Knight hormones can go, so they go into apologetics, often without anybody to instruct these guys that the medieval ideal also include the model of the verray, parfit gentil knyght who comes in peace before he comes in war. (Link)
This leads to the obvious question, Am I “full of piss and vinegar?” Before I can answer I need to take a trip to the John.
A quote from a book called Without Roots that I picked up from the library written in part by Pope Benedict (then known as Ratzinger).
a) The first reason was articulated by Nietzsche when he wrote, “Christianity has thus far always been attacked in the wrong way. As long as one does not perceive Christian morality as a capital crime against life, its defenders will always have an easy game. The question of the truth of Christianity...is something entirely secondary as long as the question of the value of Christian morality is not addressed.”
Here what we are actually addressing, in my opinion, is the decisive reason for the abandonment of Christianity: its model of life is apparently unconvincing. It seems to place too many restraints on humankind that stifle its, joie de vivre, that limit its precious freedom, and that do not lead it to open pastures- in the language of the Psalms- but rather into want, into deprivation. Something similar happened in antiquity, when the representatives of the powerful Roman state appealed to Christians by saying: Return to our religion, our religion is joyous, we have feasts, drunken revels, and entertainments, while you believe in One who was crucified.
The Christians were able to demonstrate persuasively how empty and base were the entertainments of paganism, and how sublime the gifts of faith in the God who suffers with us and leads us to the road of true greatness. Today it is a matter of the greatest urgency to show a Christian model of life that offers a livable alternative to the increasingly vacuous entertainments of leisure-time society, a society forced to make increasing recourse to drugs because it is sated by the usual shabby pleasures. Living on the great values of the Christian tradition is naturally much harder than a life rendered dull by the increasingly costly habits of time. The Christian model of life must be manifested as a life in all its fullness and freedom, a life that does not experience the bonds of love as dependence and limitation but rather as an opening to the greatness of life.
In battle it is always a good idea to understand the strategy that an opponent is going to use. Our opponent’s main strategy is not to attack our doctrines through reason. Instead, they aim at dismantling the universal hierarchy of values that our faith professes. Secular values are exalted above religious values and the sacred is demeaned. We need to be vigilant in recognizing these maneuvers because they can be so subtle at times that we don’t even see it and at times we even participate in it.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
1116 Sacraments are "powers that comes forth" from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are "the masterworks of God" in the new and everlasting covenant. (Catechism of Catholic Church)
Monday, May 08, 2006
THE BATTLE OF PRAYER
2725 Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The "spiritual battle" of the Christian's new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.
With our culture that has so many things to distract us, how can the spiritual battle and the battle of prayer be recognize as reality?
I think the answer to this question can be found in the beatitudes.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Experience & Tradition
by Eve Tushnet
One of the frightening aspects of loving somebody is the way that love can seem to offer unique access not only to pleasure but to truth. Love of another person-not only romantic love, but familial love and deep friendship as well-promises or threatens to reshape us completely. It can become the lens through which we see the world.
When I came out as a lesbian, provoked in part by a puppyish crush, I felt as though I had found the key that unlocked the secrets of the world. The only experience that has ever given me a greater rush of self-understanding was my conversion to Catholicism. The two experiences felt weirdly similar: both were frightening and illuminating, separating me to a certain extent from friends and family, yet both were prompted by love.
Perhaps this similarity between love of another person and love of God is one reason that Scripture makes love between humans one of its central metaphors for the love story of God and humankind-while also asserting the primacy of the divine love story over, and sometimes against, the human ones. Scripture gives us “His banner over me was love” (Song of Songs 2:4), but also “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). We should seek to reconcile love of God and love of others whenever they appear to conflict. But we can’t simply assume that such a conflict never exists-or that, if a conflict seems to arise, God couldn’t possibly be asking us to sacrifice a human relationship.
Luke Timothy Johnson’s essay (page 14) touches on some of the deepest questions for a Christian: How do I understand and express my love for others? How should I let love reshape me? How should I read Scripture, especially in light of this love? For the Catholic, Johnson addresses an additional question: How should I read Scripture by the light of the church? And for an American in 2007, he adds a question that has become unavoidable: How can a Christian understand homosexuality?
Johnson’s conclusions are quite different from my own (and don’t reflect my experience). But his questions are the right ones, and his approach is far more fruitful than the ways in which our culture most often handles homosexuality.
Homosexuality has become a cultural battleground for reasons that have very little to do with Catholic morality or scriptural prohibitions. So many people, including many Catholics, meet the idea that gay couples are doing something wrong with blank incomprehension for a lot of reasons. Some are obvious: changing views of sex (including the wishful-thinking belief that birth control has separated sex from reproduction-spend an evening at a crisis pregnancy center and you’ll quickly figure out how much the pill didn’t change); the growing tendency to think of the body more as an instrument, to be used by the mind, than as a sign with its own integrity.
But others are less obvious and perhaps more emotionally powerful. Several recent studies have found that Americans are having a harder time making and keeping close personal relationships. We move halfway across the country, we replace communal gathering places like churches with more solitary “third places” like coffee shops, we have an intense longing for familial connection but terrible difficulty keeping our families together. And so we’re ready to cheer on any kind of personal connection at all, any love that lasts, since we see it much more rarely than we used to.
Anxieties about homosexuality are often driven by anxieties about masculinity. A lot of men, whether consciously or subconsciously, view lesbians as women outside male control, and gay men as traitors and predators, denying their own masculinity and threatening the masculinity of other men. This attitude may be nonsense (how is your masculinity threatened because another guy thinks you’re attractive?), but it’s real. So any discussion of homosexuality taps into deep-seated fears about what it means to be a man, and whether differences between men and women are created by the culture to keep women subordinate. We’re willing to do all kinds of terrible things in order to attain or keep a valued social role, a narrative that makes us feel worthy. For many men, achieving manhood is a major part of their identity. Acceptance of homosexuality-a worldview in which men and women are interchangeable in their sexual and familial roles-can feel deeply threatening. And men whose social roles and sense of their own masculine identity are threatened do sometimes-this is shocking, I know-become irrational and violent.
The often vicious and violent anxiety about masculinity is one reason that the ways in which homosexuality is stigmatized in our culture look nothing like the ways we treat many other things Scripture calls vices. Kids on the playground taunt each other for being gay, even disparaging other kids’ backpacks or pencil cases as “so gay.” People get beaten up or harassed on the street for their real or perceived homosexuality. Parents reject their children for coming out-I suspect most gay people know at least a few friends who were rejected in the most hurtful and vicious ways. (If we care about family breakup, we need to care about families broken by the actions of homophobic parents, as well as those broken by divorce.) This isn’t how we treat the acts we really consider sinful. It’s how we treat scapegoats.
Catholics who find it difficult, even impossible, to believe the traditional Catholic story of sexual morality are often reacting to this cultural landscape. They see devoted couples on one side, violent insecurity and parental rejection on the other. And they see Catholic prohibitions against homosexual acts as providing an excuse for the violent and the cruel.
So it’s tempting to conclude that prohibitions against homosexuality are culture-bound, no more universally binding than the requirement that women cover their heads in church. It’s true that culture conditions how we read Scripture, and that as Christians we need to be open to the countercultural implications of the gospel. But this fact argues far more strongly against Johnson’s position than against the church’s. If we seek to overcome any aspects of our culture that conflict with the gospel, I’m not sure why we would expect the gay liberation movement-slightly over a hundred years old, and largely Western in character-to be less culture-bound, and therefore a better guide to the countercultural aspects of the gospel, than the Catholic Church. The church is bigger and older than you, me, or the very concept of the homosexual person. (The view that sexual orientation is intrinsic and constitutive of a person’s deepest identity comes from a school of psychology that owes very little to the gospel, and a great deal to anti-Christian forms of philosophical materialism.)
Experience is itself a kind of text, and texts need interpreters. How often have we thought that we understood our experiences, only to realize later that we had only the barest understanding of our own motives and impulses? We all know how flexible memory can be, how easy it is to give an overly gentle account of our own motivations, how hard it is to step outside our lifelong cultural training and see with the eyes of another time or place. To my mind, Johnson’s approach places far too much trust in personal experience. He views our experience as both more transparent and less fallible than it is. To take personal experience as our best and sturdiest guide seems like a good way to replicate all of our personal preferences and cultural blind spots. Scripture is weird and tangly and anything but obvious-but at least it wasn’t written by someone who shared all our desires, preferences, and cultural background. At least it wasn’t written by us. And so it’s necessary to turn at least as much skepticism on “the voice of experience” as Johnson turns on the voice of Scripture. It’s necessary to look at least as hard for alternative understandings of our experience as for alternative understandings of Scripture.
And in fact there are theologians who, allowing themselves to be surprised and guided by Scripture and church teaching, have provided accounts of sexuality that resonate with my own experience in a lot of ways. The only theological “school” or approach that has helped me understand at least parts of the church teaching on homosexuality is the theology of the body. This approach, or my understanding of it, is imperfect; but it’s much more convincing to me than the often mechanistic natural-law approaches, which tend to assume cultural consensus on teleology.
As I understand it, the theology of the body takes Jesus’ words on Jewish divorce laws as its starting point: “From the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8). In this approach, we look to Genesis, to the creation narratives, to discover who we truly are and how we could most perfectly relate to one another. Although marriage is the primary focus of the theology of the body, sexual difference is a recurring theme.
And here we discover that la différence is at the heart of human nature. Before we relate to one another as parent and child, worker and boss, artist and audience, soldier and comrade, or any other relationship, we are man and woman. Before we have any other identity (excepting, of course, our most central identity as children of God), we have sexual identity.
I believe that. Through history and in almost all great art, he and she are distinct, and their difference is fundamental in a way that class differences, ethnic differences, maybe even differences of belief are not. And yet every attempt to codify sexual difference fails. People (mostly men) keep making these lists to explain what distinguishes men and women: Women are more practical, or more fickle, or more romantic or less; they’re more nurturing or more petty or more gentle, more selfless or more selfish. These lists aren’t just false, they’re also boring. They take the vivid reality of sexual difference and flatten it out, drain the color from it. What good is an understanding of womanhood that would leave out Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, or Molly Bloom?
The theology of the body, almost alone among theories of la différence, avoids the listmaking trap. Here, man is defined by his longing for woman, woman by her longing for man; this is the “nuptial meaning of the body.” The male becomes a man and the female a woman in their yearning for each other. Love of the other both creates and reconciles the sexes.
There are some obvious attractions of this theology. It’s very beautiful. It reconciles two seemingly irreconcilable facts (the enduring importance of sexual difference, and the impossibility of defining that difference through lists of qualities). It focuses on the creation of identity through love of another, whose otherness remains even as the two become “one flesh.” This supports the metaphorical use of human love in Scripture, and even deepens our understanding of that metaphor.
But there are equally obvious problems with applying this Genesis model to homosexuality. I’ve never found that lesbian women were less womanly, or gay men less manly. Either I’m misunderstanding the implications of the theology of the body, or I’m misunderstanding my own experience. (Or both, of course!) Moreover, showing that homosexual relationships are imperfect, that they do not echo our life in Eden as well as heterosexual relationships can, might not be the same as showing that gay sex is always and everywhere wrong. In his book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, the gay-rights advocate Jonathan Rauch, an atheist, calls homosexuality “a (mild) disability,” but not an inclination to immorality. And the “theology of the body” approach doesn’t give any guidance on the questions currently most pressing to me: How can I express my love of women in ways consonant with church teaching; and how can I deepen my love of Christ through all the other loves in my life, including romantic love?
So I’m not completely satisfied, yet, with the explanations I’ve seen for church teaching. I do think I’m closer to understanding it now than I was when I was confirmed. I see more of the beauty in the teaching now, and I think I’m at the point of beginning actual theological investigation of the question, rather than just staring at the church in utter confusion. Both the theologians and I have a lot of work to do here. You might even say that Johnson and I agree that what the church has done so far on this issue isn’t enough-we just disagree on which approaches might bear fruit in the future.
The coming-out story is a quintessentially American story. It is self-discovery in opposition to societal regulation. It is personal liberation-as American as “lighting out for the territory.” There are ways to tell the Christian story so that it corresponds very well to this story of self-discovery and liberation: through Christ we are freed from sin and come to know ourselves; in Nietzsche’s phrase, we “become what we are.” But there are other ways of talking about Christian life-ways that focus on sacrifice, martyrdom, dying in Christ to live with him-which are perhaps less quintessentially American, and for that reason all the more necessary for us. There’s a reason all Catholic churches have a crucifix, an image of the tortured God.
Johnson, like many writers who oppose the church’s prohibition against all homosexual acts, points to the real virtues exhibited by so many gay couples: loyalty, caretaking, and compassion. Anyone who supports church teaching must still acknowledge that these virtues are real; that deep, often sacrificial love works through these couples like gold threads in cloth. The question is whether that is enough. How could it not be? How could Christ require more?
And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” ...The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants.
And so the central problem emerges: Whom do we follow? How do we follow love? Can a human beloved have the same ability to overturn us completely-to read and interpret and reshape us-that Jesus himself has? Can love of another person do the same work as the love of God?
Almost all the time, love of God will deepen and strengthen our love of others in obvious ways, rather than conflicting with that love or posing a dilemma. And so we are tempted to believe that our love of God and our love of others won’t ever conflict. But there will be times when it does seem like God is asking us to choose. At the very least, God may require us to radically reshape our understanding of what love of another person should look like. God may ask you not to stop loving your partner but to express that love without sex.
The analogy between God’s love for us and our love for one another is real but partial, and needs to be understood in light of the entire teaching of the church. The church does not teach that whatever anyone does out of a deep conviction and a desire to express love is always intrinsically good. We can sincerely seek to do good and yet actually act wrongly; this happens all the time. Even the saints get stuff wrong, as do all kinds of loving, sincere people. It might even be said that the reason we have church teaching in the first place is that loving, sincere people do their best and still sometimes get things very wrong.
Johnson begins by saying that his position “stand[s] in tension with Scripture.” But he then seems to use human beloveds as a kind of walking Scripture in themselves, able to contradict and correct the merely paper canon. So he writes:
I think it important [for the integrity of our position] to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.
I’m not convinced this is how human love stories relate to the divine love story. Loving one another can be an echo of the love we receive from God; it can be the child of that love; it can be preparation for our own awestruck love of God. (I would argue that my erotic and romantic love of women has been all three of those things, at different times.) But our human experience, including our erotic experience, cannot be a replacement for the divine revelation preserved by the church. We must be careful not to let it become a counternarrative or a counter-Scripture.
So we’re left back where we started: with the seemingly irresolvable conflict between the church’s teaching on the one hand, and the difficulty of believing that teaching for many contemporary Catholics.
I am unimpressed with the attempts to resolve the conflict by negating the teaching. And so I have to seek ways to make that teaching more intelligible. I hope this essay has suggested some ways already. Strengthen your families (and your friendships). Accept your children, loving and welcoming them, even, and perhaps especially, when you can’t approve of all of their beliefs or choices. (Welcome your children’s friends, as well, especially those who have been rejected or hurt by their own parents.) Don’t set homosexuality apart, a specially and un-Scripturally stigmatized and identity-shaping category. Accept the sacrifices of Catholic life; don’t try to wriggle out of them when they hurt you, as they inevitably will. Don’t try to ignore them when they hurt someone you love; offer the real compassion of friendship, helping your loved one carry the cross, as Simon of Cyrene did for our Lord, not the false compassion of “whatever you think best, honey.”
I was incredibly lucky. I did not have to overcome familial rejection when I came out. I didn’t face violence or even much teasing. And, of course, this charmed life made it easier for me to believe that Catholic teaching was not based in hatred. I was equally lucky that the friends whose influence ultimately helped me accept the grace of conversion didn’t focus on my sexual orientation. They knew I was gay, and that I was pretty vocal about it. They tried, when I asked, to explain church teaching on homosexuality, but did it very poorly. I’m glad that they instead wanted to talk with me about the Crucifixion as the reconciliation of justice and mercy, or Creation as an explanation of the goodness and intrinsic, poetic meaning of the physical world. There are obviously things that could have been done or said better. I remember one very sweet, good-hearted priest who tried to help me out (again, because I asked him to) by comparing lesbian sex to trying to use a doorknob wrapped in barbed wire. I did my best to cover my bewilderment with politeness.
When I was baptized and confirmed, pledging, “I believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches,” I did it basically as a leap of faith. I knew why I needed to be Catholic; I knew that as a Catholic I’d have to follow this stuff, faith seeking understanding and all that; I trusted that eventually I would understand the reasons behind the teaching a little better. And I do. Even so, I waver on how much I think I understand the teaching from day to day.
But what has constantly surprised me about the Catholic Church is just how much there is for me here. There is a rich theology of friendship, helping me to express my love of women both sacrificially and chastely. There’s honor for both celibacy and married life, and resources for living fruitfully in either of these states. We have Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, we have saints who are possibly even crazier than I am, we have the Anima Christi and Thomas à Kempis’s rewriting of the Song of Songs as a hymn to the crucified Christ. I feel as if every week or so I discover yet another hidden treasure of the church that speaks to me in exactly the way I need in order to deal specifically with my struggles, resentments, longings, and strengths as a woman and a lesbian. We can make the church’s teaching believable by becoming more Catholic-which is, not coincidentally, what we should be doing anyway.
Eve Tushnet is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C. She blogs at http://eve-tushnet.blogspot.com
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
In Andrei Rublev’s icon, the persons of the Holy Trinity are shown in the order in which they are confessed in the Credo. The first angel is the first person of the Trinity - God the Father; the second, middle angel is God the Son; the third angel is God the Holy Spirit. All three angels are blessing the chalice, in which lies a sacrificed calf, prepared for eating. The sacrifice of the calf signifies the Saviour’s death on the cross, while its preparation as food symbolizes the sacrament of the Eucharist. All three angels have staffs in their hand as a symbol of their divine power.
The first angel, shown at left, is vested in a blue undergarment which depicts his divine celestial nature, and a light purple outer garment which attests to the unfathomable nature and the royal dignity of this angel. Behind him and above his head towers a house, the abode of Abraham, and a sacrificial altar in front of the house. This image of the abode has a symbolic meaning: the house signifies God’s master plan for creation, while the fact that the house towers above the first angel shows him to be the head (or Father) of this creation. The same fatherly authority is seen in his entire appearance. His head is not bowed and he is looking at the other two angels. His whole demeanor - the expression on his face, the placement of his hands, the way he is sitting - all speaks of his fatherly dignity. The other two angels have their heads inclined and eyes turned toward the first angel with great attention, as though conversing with him about the salvation of mankind.
The second angel is placed in the middle of the icon. This placement is determined by the position held by the second Person within the Trinity Itself. Above his head extend the branches of an oak tree. The vestments of the second angel correspond to those in which the Saviour is usually depicted. The undergarment is a dark crimson color which symbolizes the incarnation, while the blue outer robe signifies the divinity and the celestial nature of this angel. The second angel is inclined towards the first angel, as though deep in conversation. The tree behind him serves as a reminder of the tree of life that was standing in Eden, and of the cross.
The angel on the right is the third Person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit. His light blue undergarment and smoky-green outer garment represent heaven and earth, and signify the life-giving force of the Holy Spirit, which animates everything that exists. “By the Holy Spirit every soul lives and is elevated in purity” - sings the Church. This elevation in purity is represented in the icon by a mountain above the third angel.
Thus Andrei Rublev’s icon, while being an unsurpassed work of iconography, is first and foremost a “theology in color,” which instructs us in all that concerns the revelation of the triune God and the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
From the book “Thoughts on Iconography” by monk Gregory Krug.
The Gospels describe the human and concrete gestures of Jesus: he walks, he blesses, he touches, he heals, he mixes saliva and mud, he raises his eyes to heaven, he breaks the bread, he takes the cup. These are the gestures repeated in the celebration of the sacraments. But it was above all on the night of his passion that Jesus taught us the gestures that we too must perform. He is our master of liturgical education. His art consists in setting forth the essential in a few simple things. The meaning of the liturgy is revealed only through simplicity and sobriety. «He always loved those who were his own in the world. When the time came for him to be glorified by you his heavenly Father; he showed the depth of his love. While they were at supper he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples saying […]. In the same way, he took the cup, filled with wine. He gave you thanks, and giving the cup to his disciples, said […] ». What is it that made this act of the Lord so beautiful? The way the room was arranged? The way the table was prepared? Fine table linen? Certainly these things bring out its beauty, like a frame which enhances the beauty of a picture. Yet the real beauty lies in Jesus’ act of redeeming love: «he showed the depth of his love… he took bread». Here lies the beauty of his gesture. Repeating this action of Christ, and recognising in it her Lord’s love, the Church finds it beautiful. The liturgy’s aesthetic value, its beauty, depends primarily therefore not on art, but on the paschal mystery of love. If art is to collaborate with the liturgy it needs to be evangelised by love. The beauty of a Eucharistic celebration essentially depends not on the beauty of architecture, icons, decoration, songs, vestments, choreography and colours, but above all on the ability to reveal the gesture of love performed by Jesus. Through the gestures, words and prayers of the liturgy we strive to repeat and render visible the gestures, prayers and words of the Lord Jesus. This is what the Lord commanded: «Do this in memory of me».